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Filipino priest says “fulfilling” to had accompanied “visa-reconsidered” WYD participants

Filipino priest John Dave Francis Pineda, 31, director of the diocesan youth commission of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan (AVC), says it was a very fulfilling experience to have accompanied those whose visas were reconsidered for World Youth Day (WDY) 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.

He said this after reading the article "Fundraisings, a Visa denied, and a worldwide maintenance: A young Filipino’s journey to WYD 2023" on Radio Veritas Asia published on August 10. 

Pineda recognized Neil Anthony Paguia, a youth servant from the Diocese of Malolos of the Philippines, to be in their group, which later came to be known as the "Mighty 30 of the Philippines."

The WYD is an international event for young people organized by the Catholic Church. It is held every two to three years since it was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985, with the first held in Rome in 1986.

This was the response of several youths from different countries to the Pope's invitation to join the International Jubilee of Youth in 1984 and the United Nations International Year of the Youth in 1985, both held in Rome.

The last one occurred in Panama in 2019, and the one scheduled for 2022 was canceled because of COVID-19. To be among its participants in the WYD is the dream of most church-based young people across the globe.

Organizers said there were 354,000 pilgrims from at least 143 countries registered for the 2023 event.

Among them is Christopher Joseph Maliksi-Corales, 23, from tourist destination Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro Province, who is a member of the diocesan core group team of the youth’s commission, of which Pineda is a director.

Last year, Corales graduated from Mindoro State University with a Bachelor's in Secondary Education majoring in English. He made several sacrifices as a working graduate student (general manager at Teafora Milk Tea House) and a church-based youth leader. 

"I thought of joining the 2019 WYD in Panama, but it was next to impossible. When I joined the 2019 National Youth Day in Cebu, that’s when I dreamed of joining this year’s WYD in Portugal. Every peso mattered to me, whether to spend or not since I decided to save for the WYD," said Corales in a separate interview with RVA News.

Among others, he has been a volunteer for the radio program Media Spirit Care on DZSB 104.1 Spirit FM. On his social media, his motto says, "To be a living icon of Christ."

Accompanying those "visa-reconsidered" at WYD

Pineda’s visa was earlier approved, and he had booked a flight with Corales. When the visa of Corales was disapproved, he chose "to accompany" him. "I could not bear that I would go ahead while those whom I shepherd will be left in the Philippines, without any certainty if they will be reconsidered," he said.

Among the reasons for anyone’s denial of a visa raised by the Greek embassy, which handles visas bound for Portugal, are insufficient funds, a lack of travel history, and a lack of proof of a relationship with the sponsor.

Pineda even had to write a lawyer in Greece to find ways to reconsider Corales. 

Pineda missed the pre-WYD event dubbed "Days in the Diocese," where pilgrims were immersed for seven days in a diocese in Portugal.

"To cut a long story short, he (Corales) was reconsidered because of Bishop Rex Andrew Alarcon, chair of the Episcopal Commission on Youth of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). My support was my presence and motivation. Dreams are more powerful than defeat. I told him that a dream prayed over is granted by God," said Pineda.

"It was indeed fulfilling to journey with people who carry their dreams with hope. Since I was only the priest in the group of those whose visas were reconsidered, I found it a blessing to have journeyed with them through their pains and trials," said Pineda.

Home away from home

The group of Pineda arrived in Portugal on July 30, Lisbon time. It was a surprise that they were provided with the most beautiful accommodations, while the other pilgrims who arrived earlier stayed in the gymnasium and schools.

A very rich Portuguese woman adopted Pineda and Corales, Inês Soares da Silva, 89 years old, whose loved ones had just passed away.  She retired from the management of a law office some years ago. 

It is a Filipino couple who comes daily for housework and with whom Silva has good experiences, so she chose Filipino pilgrims to host. Pineda said, "She was really like a parent for all of us."

Silva, in a message to RVA, said, "My experience in hosting was very good I feel it was a blessing… All my life, I have been traveling all over the world, and I have friends all over. It was quite a different experience to be with this group during such a special time as WYD was," she said, adding Pineda and Corales to the list of her friends, never strangers from when they met.

Pineda said, "I felt that she was the Elizabeth sent to us by God—as he reflects on the theme of the WYD, which Pope Francis himself chose: "Mary arose and went with haste" (Luke, 1:39).

"Mary rushed to go to Elizabeth (to share the news of her pregnancy) but had to wait before being able to do their mission. Patient and prayerful waiting are important postures of a pilgrim’s heart," said Pineda of his takeaways from the WYD.

"When you can encounter Christ, there is no other best option but to share His presence with haste. The challenge for me is to find 'more Elizabeths’ when I go back to the vicariate; to share my Magnificat with them like what Mother Mary did," he said.

On their last day at the WYD, after the missioning (closing) mass of Pope Francis in the open ground, they had to walk under 37 degrees Celsius heat for about five hours, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This was because most of the transportation was not available, like when the train stations were closed, said Corales.

But that happened after being blessed to have been assigned by the WYD organization to the A13 sector, composed of those whose visas were reconsidered, one of the closest sectors to the altar.

Pineda also experienced carrying canned goods for the Filipino pilgrims, thereby enduring pain from his sciatica, making it hard for him to walk on his right foot because of the extreme pain.

"But I think it is also the same in my ministry of accompaniment. The best way to journey with the young is to walk with them, even if sometimes that would mean hurtful pains to me," said Pineda. 

He wishes to accompany more young people from the vicariate to be able to participate in WYD.

The Jubilee of Young People is to be held in Rome from July 28 to August 30, 2025. ("It is a pilgrimage as massive as that of a Jubilee Year in Rome! This transformative event takes place only once every 25 years, and will be a tremendously wonderful spiritual and fraternal experience to renew and ignite more profoundly your faith."

Pineda, in his third year as a priest, said it was also "fulling to have concelebrated the Holy Mass with Pope Francis,  wearing the WYD priestly vestments".

"I have found a profound sense of joy and fulfillment not in the perks of World Youth Day but in those moments where I made difficult decisions for the sake of charity. I have received true consolation not in certainties of comfort but in the act of surrender," he said.

"I am celebrating triumph not because I was there in Portugal and celebrated World Youth Day 2023; I consider myself a victor because I was able to experience God and the Catholic Church and her universality," he said.

"My heart is so grateful that I have received new dreams to live by and a deeper purpose to continue being a shepherd to young people," said Pineda.

He also thanked Fr. Nestor Adalia, apostolic administrator of the AVC, and the AVC Clergy for their support of WYD.

On August 12, Corales posted on his social media a shared message with the Mighty 30 of the Philippines: "I was one of those who dreamt, were excited for the World Youth Day, saved money, did ask for financial help, went through the screening from parish to ECY-CBCP office, invested a lot of time going back and forth from Manila to Oriental Mindoro, processed my Schengen visa application, and prayed for the WYD."

"Also, I was the one who got the denied Schengen visa, suffered a lot of mental and emotional distress, was spiritually unstable, cried a lot, woke up each day with uncertainties, was tired of waiting, and felt numb because of hopelessness."

"I was one of those who the embassy reconsidered, felt the hope, reapplied after the announcement of reconsideration, attended the preparatory session, went to Portugal, were called the Mighty 30, witnessed the universality of the Church, met different nationalities, set foot in Fatima, pilgrimaged, experienced home away from home, saw the pope, and attended the Mass presided by Pope Francis together with 1.5 Million other pilgrims."

Corales said, on August 13, the first week after the WYD, that His Words came to me: "Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?"  After they got into the boat, the wind died down.  Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

"God made everything possible through the presence of Bishop Rex, the ECY staff, and my companion, Fr. John Dave Pineda. Thank you," said Corales.

And his takeaway? "We, the Mighty 30 of the Philippines, were aliens to each other in the beginning, coming from different organizations and territories.  At the end of the WYD, a new family was established. 

"Mighty 30 of the Philippines is living proof that when we allow God to be at the center and in the process of our dream.. we stayed in His mercy and love from where the dream took root and grew.  As Pope Francis said during the WYD, "Do not be afraid. Take courage!" said Corales.                                                                                                


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.